Reference: ADVANCE Magazine for Speech Language Pathologists, March 17, 2011
Mental function improves after certain kinds of socializing.
Talking with other people in a friendly way can make it easier to solve common problems, but conversations that are competitive in tone, rather than cooperative, have no cognitive benefits, a recent study shows (Social “Psychological and Personality Science, online, Oct. 13, 2010).
“This study shows that simply talking to other people, the way you do when you’re making friends, can provide mental benefits”, said lead author Oscar Ybarra, PhD, a psychologist at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.
Researchers examined the impact of brief episodes of social contact on executive function, a key component of mental activity. Previously, Dr. Ybarra had found that social interaction provides a short-term boost to executive function that is comparable in size to playing brain games, such as solving crossword puzzles.
In the current series of studies, he and colleagues tested 192 undergraduates to pinpoint which types of social interaction help and which don’t. They found that engaging in 10-minute conversations in which participants simply were instructed to get to know another person resulted in boosts to subsequent performance on an array of common cognitive tasks. But when participants engaged in conversations that had a competitive edge, their performance on cognitive tasks showed no improvement.
“We believe that performance boosts come about because some social interactions induce people to try to read others’ minds and take their perspectives on things,” Dr. Ybarra said. “We also find that when we structure even competitive interactions to have an element of taking the other person’s perspective, or trying to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, there is a boost in executive functioning as a result.”
In addition, the improvement in mental function was limited to tasks assessing executive function. Neither processing speed nor general knowledge was affected by the type of social interaction engaged in by participants.
“Taken together with earlier research, these findings highlight the connection between social intelligence and general intelligence,” he said. “This fits with evolutionary perspectives that examine social pressure on the emergence of intelligence and research showing a neural overlap between social-cognitive and executive brain functions.”
The research also has some practical implications for improving performance on certain kinds of intellectual tasks. If you want to perform your best, having a friendly chat with a colleague before a big presentation or test may be a good strategy.
Blogger comment: I can attest to having more energy after I have socialized with friends in a noncompetitive way. It seems to help my frame of mind and I am more productive. In this high technology world and with emphasis on texting and social media, it is refreshing to know that face to face contact with people is and always will be beneficial to all of us.